The lack of nurses could reach an ‘unsafe’ level in less than ten years due to European Union (EU) nurses leaving the NHS, according to data leaked to the Health Service Journal.
Forecasts from the Department of Health indicate there could be a shortage of 40,000 nurses by 2026 in the ‘worst-case scenario’ post-Brexit. Following the referendum result in June 2016, 2,700 EU nurses have already left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register.
The leak has prompted serious concern among ministers and officials at Richmond House – headquarters of the DoH – as the UK heads into Brexit negotiations. The worst case scenario is based on modelling by civil servants where all EU and non-EU inflows of nurses and midwives stop after changes to immigration rules.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief Janet Davies said: ‘This concerning leak reveals that, without urgent action, the government may struggle to provide a safe health service in the future. It comes on top of tens of thousands of nursing jobs already lying vacant too.
‘In some areas, the NHS is currently finding it difficult to provide safe and effective staffing. The number of nurses on duty has a direct impact on the quality of care, people’s experience and the outcome of their treatment.’
While the model is considered unlikely to happen, any impact on workforce supply from Brexit and increased demand on services could place pressure on the NHS and be a risk to patient safety.
‘The NHS has never been self-sufficient and always relied on staff from outside the UK,’ Ms Davies said. ‘The government must take an early decision on the status of our European nurses and those from beyond Europe. To lose their talent would be foolish when faced with this potential crisis.’